November 2016 Articles

Bryn Mawr Woman

Calabreseby Marylyn E. Jones Calabrese ’57

Growing up in a family where physical activity was not a priority, I never minded not having any athletic talent. In high school, I almost failed gym. At Bryn Mawr, I dropped lacrosse and softball and finally succeeded at archery.

Here is my story of how all of that changed.

From 1972 to 1974, the Mighty Macs of Immaculata College won the national women’s basketball championship. Although I was then middle-aged with no experience in sports, this team had a profound influence on my life.

After attending my first Mighty Macs basketball game, I was hooked. Entranced by the players’ skills, I followed them to local venues and even to Madison Square Garden. Accompanying the nuns on the away buses, I became a basketball groupie.

When this team wasn’t playing, I indulged my new passion by finding high school girls’ and boys’ basketball games. One year, a local boys’ team was a contender for district and state titles, so that meant many games for me to follow.

For the first time in my life, I became a sports fan. When I wasn’t going to games, naturally I wanted to read about how all these teams were doing.

So I started reading the sports pages.

What a disappointment! I couldn’t find coverage for any of the high school girls’ games or for those of the Mighty Macs. I searched for box scores, pictures, and full write-ups, the kind of coverage I now saw was routinely given to the local boys’ teams as well as to men’s local and national college teams. I became incensed. Here we had a national champion right in our Philadelphia backyard—yet very little coverage of their success.

I got busy. I started writing letters to the editor of a local paper, urging better coverage. I especially wanted the local girls’ basketball teams to get coverage equal to the boys’ teams. Eventually, what I requested appeared: pictures of the high school girls in action, box scores, write-ups, the works.

I became a serious writer of Letters to the Editor.

Then I started reading about sports and how important they could be in the growing-up process for both boys and girls. I worked for increased athletic opportunities for girls in public school districts. I went to conferences on Women in Sports and learned how important athletics were in women’s push for equality in all phases of American life.

Eventually, my original concern for girls’ athletic opportunities evolved into an interest in the larger issues of women’s rights.

I co-founded a local NOW chapter and wrote and directed two federal grants funded by the Women’s Educational Equity Act. Both focused on public school districts and how they could become more equitable for boys and girls by examining all aspects of school district operation: personnel policies, teachers’ behaviors with students, curriculum choices, and sports opportunities. For my work, I received the Decade of EquityAward from American University in Washington, D.C.

What had begun with my passion for basketball had transformed me into an activist.

Then I got interested in all kinds of physical activity for myself: exercise, workouts, swimming, walking, Pilates.

It wasn’t long before I, in midlife, became an athlete. I started serious swimming, eventually competing in adult Masters’ swimming meets. Although I was not fast, I discovered I had endurance because I was a daily swimmer. At one practice event, actually at Bryn Mawr, a young lifeguard, noticing my gray hair, as well as my stamina in doing laps, remarked as I got out of the pool, “You must have been a great swimmer when you were younger!”

I couldn’t tell her the truth: “I never swam when I was younger; I’m as great a swimmer now as I’ll ever be.”

One summer I even entered a 10K competition, swimming 6.2 miles, nonstop. Not only did I amaze my friends, I amazed myself. What had happened to me?

Now, here I am, at 80, still exercising every day, whether that means walking, swimming, cutting the grass, or doing Pilates. Daily workouts have been good for my health, both physical and mental.

Of course, I’m a lifelong supporter of women’s rights, and I still love basketball.